Our Renew/Cancel Index currently lists Heroes as “likely to be renewed”,  and some people think that’s nuts.  I’ve read a couple of discussion forums citing our story and saying that conclusion is nut.  Is it nuts?

Consider that as bad as Heroes‘ ratings have been, it’s still one of NBC’s best performers.

The Index is definitely not nuts, but…

I don’t think it’s nuts, and not because I’m biased, but because I understand how the Index works.

But I don’t know if I buy the conclusion either, even if it isn’t nuts.  I understand how the index reaches the conclusion though.  Based on the simple math the index works on, relative to NBC’s network average adults 18-49, Heroes is still one of NBC’s best performing shows.

When it comes to one hour dramas, recently it’s doing better than anything but Law & Order: SVU.   It also trails Sunday Night Football, The Biggest Loser, The Office,  and now 30 Rock, if you add in this week.  But NBC is now so relatively low-rated, particularly when it comes to one hour dramas,  that I worry NBC can bust the index.  NBC pretty much broke an entire broadcast network primetime lineup, busting our index seems like child’s play in comparison!

All other things being equal, at least for the last two seasons, the index has been a pretty reliable predictor, particularly with one hour scripted dramas.  However, “all other things being equal” no longer seems to apply to NBC, and I particularly wonder in the case of Heroes.

Things working against Heroes

  • Expensive: I’ve heard even with cost cuts, its current budget was drawn up with adults 18-49 ratings of a 3.0 or better in mind
  • Diminishing ratings:  premiered under a 3.0 (2.8) and has dropped down to a 2.4 adults 18-49 rating.  Even a stunt obviously intended to improve ratings — Hayden Panettiere kissing Madeline Zima — didn’t boost the ratings.

Things people point to in Heroes favor:

DVR viewing

Sure, I know people still watch it on DVR, but recently published Nielsen C3 data (commercial viewing, plus 3 days of revenue) showed that the additional DVR program viewing (Live+7) ratings that are reported long after the fact,  don’t really have any impact beyond what’s already included in the live plus same day program ratings.

Verdict:  I don’t see the Live+7 DVR numbers mattering at all to Heroes viewing prospects


While no longer the DVD superstar it was in the past, season 3 has still sold over 500,000 units and at least ~$19 million in revenue (does not include Blu Ray) according to estimates, but keep in mind not all that money goes back to the network.

Verdict: if I assume total revenue gets up to $25 million (in the US)  and that NBC Universal winds up seeing at least half of the revenue, it’s definitely a positive.   But likely not positive enough to offset a 2.4 rating, especially if it continues to go down from there. Still, it’s at least a factor in its favor.

International Licensing

I have heard that NBC Uni’s International licensing revenue for Heroes has been a big deal in the past.  Whether it will be a big deal this season, or more importantly potentially next season, I can’t say.  Unfortunately we see limited international data.  The data I have seen doesn’t lead me to believe Heroes is doing particularly well in the  only couple of countries I’ve ever looked at (Canada and UK). However, those are but two locations.     Assuming that the ratings trends abroad aren’t very different than the trend at home, coupled with never hearing of a low-rated show that was ever preserved exclusively because of international licensing…

Verdict:   International licensing probably won’t offset a bad ratings-to-cost ratio.

Online Viewing

Hulu, iTunes,!

Verdict: It doesn’t matter exactly what they numbers are, they’re not good enough to offset a bad ratings-to-cost ratio.

Syndication/C’mon on how much more expensive can it be than Law & Order: SVU!?

Serial shows don’t do well in syndication, so they don’t make as much in syndication and even at the end of this season, Heroes will only be at about 81 episodes.  If it wasn’t a serial show, I could see keeping it around another year to get it to 100 episodes as a big deal.   But it is a serial show.  Which brings us to “but come on, Law & Order: SVU is expensive! Hargitay and Meloni just stuck it to them for big, big bucks!”

Law & Order: SVU isn’t a serial show. It’s a procedural…

Though moving SVU to 9pm has certainly hurt the ratings, in the most recent week L&O: SVU is still doing a bit better than Heroes (2.6 vs. 2.4).  Unfortunately, it’s easier to make ratings comparisons for us than it is cost comparisons.  But one other comparison that’s easy to make.   Law & Order: SVU reruns aired 25 times last week on USA (also owned by NBC Universal) and that’s just basic cable.  It doesn’t count one weekly syndicated airing on a local channel.   The weekly Heroes airs again a couple of times on the G4 network.  Last week (10/6) a 10pm Tuesday airing averaged 177K and a 2:00am Wednesday airing another 85K. The least-watched SVU rerun averaged 535,000 at 4:00am on a Thursday, the most-watched SVU rerun was 10pm Tuesday – head-to-head with the Heroes airing on G4 that only pulled 177K —  that averaged 2.687 million.

Syndication prospects for SVU are so relatively rosy compared to Heroes’ prospects, its expense structure (whatever it is) isn’t as bothersome to me as Heroes’ expense structure (whatever it is).

Verdict: syndication will  not play a role in Heroes’ renewal prospects.

It’s NBC’s one of NBC’s best* performing hour long drama!

It really is.  This really might matter, too.  Hollywood is all about perceptions and egos.    If Heroes ratings don’t keep going down, even if a 2.4 isn’t anything to get excited about,  it could possibly be enough.  Just to give the appearance that NBC has some stability, there’s a case to be made to keep it if they really care about appearances.

Especially if the show isn’t bleeding a ton of money.   Ah, if we could only see the financial details!   But in a world where Heroes was ranging from making a little bit of money to losing a little bit of money, I could see NBC keeping it around for another season just for appearances.

Verdict: it really is one of NBC’s best performing hour long dramas!

*In our most-recent renew/cancel Index Heroes is actually ahead of Law & Order: SVU, but the trend in the most recent week is SVU outperformed it, if that trend continues SVU will soon overtake it in the Index, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.


If the ratings stabilized at a 2.4, even though it’s one of NBC best-performing hour long dramas, I still think it’s probably “on the bubble”, with some things in its favor that could get it another season.   I can’t believe Heroes can afford much more ratings attrition, even if NBC’s overall average continues to go south and Heroes remains one of the best performing dramas. Sad as it is, Heroes could drop down to a 2.0 and still be one of NBC’s best-performing dramas right now.

We’ll see what happens.  My guess is the ratings don’t drop off much more and that between DVD revenue, International revenue and saving face, Heroes will be back next year, with an even smaller cast and less cost.

But the season is still very young.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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